The Federal Circuit issued an opinion in Neil Mintz and Jif-Pak Manufacturing (“Mintz”) v. Detz & Watson and PCM (“PCM”) on May 30, 2012, reversing a district court’s opinion in part, finding that the district court improperly relied on hindsight bias in using a common sense approach to invalidat a patent based on obviousness. The Plaintiff, Mintz, designs and manufactures knitted meat encasements for processed meat manufacturers, which Mintz asserts are covered by U.S. Patent No. 5,413,148 (“Patent ‘148”). The Defendant, PCM, who used to distribute Mintz’s products, began selling knitted meat encasement products in competition with Mintz. In the case, Mintz alleged that PCM’s products infringe Patent ‘148, and sued PCM in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. PCM filed a motion for summary judgment as to PCM’s non-infringement and invalidity of Mintz’s patent. The district court granted both motions. On May 30, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an opinion, upholding the district court’s decision as to non-infringement, and reversing its decision as to invalidity.
In coming to this determination, the Federal Circuit criticized the district court for succumbing to improper hindsight bias in its obviousness analysis. The Court indicated, “Obviousness requires a court to walk a tight-rope blindfolded (to avoid hindsight) – an enterprise best pursued the safety net of objective evidence.” The Court found specific fault with the district court’s “unsubstantiated reliance on ‘a common sense view’ or ‘common sense approach’ to hold that it would have been ‘obvious to try’ a locking engagement.” Merely asserting that using a locking engagement is ‘common sense’ is insufficient to form the basis of a finding of obviousness. In order to properly rely on common sense, the record would have to include evidence that common sense would reside in the ordinarily skilled artisan.
The Court also found that the district court incorrectly overlooked “the considerable record evidence on objective indicia.” The Federal Circuit indicated that this type of evidence can be important when the invention involved is less technologically complex, stating, “Simply because the technology can be easily understood does not mean that it will satisfy the legal standard of obviousness. In fact, objective consideration of simple technology is often the most difficult because, once the problem and solution appear together in the patent disclosure, the advance seems self-evident.”